How these London restaurants trained Will Poulter to go on The Bear Season 2
Chefs from Trullo, FKABAM and St. John on having a celebrity in the kitchen and whether The Bear portrays restaurant culture accurately
image The Bear, 2023, FXP
words Darshita Goyal
Will Poulter has been on screens for over a decade, remember scrawny Eustace Scrubb from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Yes, that same character which you couldn’t decide to love or hate. Today, the British actor has transcended to the thirst hall of fame; just look at the hashtag #WillPoulterEdit on TikTok to find countless fancams that have over 114 million views. The secret recipe? Starring in a guest episode of The Bear Season 2.
The cult comedy drama follows genius chef Carmy Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White, as he revives a legacy beef sandwich shop in Chicago, transforming it into a Michelin-worthy restaurant. When the show premiered in June 2022, its broody protagonist Carmy (and his covetable white tees) emerged as dirtbag-chic sex symbols. Suddenly the phrase “Yes, chef” was fodder for foreplay and previously unheard kitchen jargon became Cool Kid Slang.
A year later, the second season released to bigger fame and brought us yet another hot chef in Poulter. The 30-year-old actor plays calm and collected pastry chef Luca — a far separation from White’s anxious, screaming iteration. In episode four, Carmy sends his pastry chef Marcus (played by Lionel Boyce) to Copenhagen to stage (kitchen speak for intern) under Luca. Although Poulter appears on screen only a handful of times (we don’t even learn his character’s last name), he makes quite the impact with his hands.
No, literally, Poulter’s character is famous for recreating childhood treats with a fine-dining finesse that makes the extra ££ worth it. On screen, we see him plate a “minty Snickers bar”. As per TIME, the dessert is built like a three-layer cake; on top, a layer of coconut cream set with gelatin, a middle layer of mint shiso, and, on the bottom, a chocolate sauce with a bit of caramel. Now imagine Poulter’s rippling muscles whipping all that saccharine goodness into shape. There, that precise feeling is what inspired all those fan edits.
Turns out the success isn’t all good looks, before appearing on the show, Poulter underwent extensive training in the kitchen. Courtney Storer, the culinary producer on The Bear, reportedly sent the actor her kit of tools along with letters and journals to unveil the true vulnerabilities of what it’s like to be a chef. But Poulter’s meaty, hands-on training took place at some of London’s finest restaurants. Canadian chef Matty Mathewson (who also plays the character of Neil Fak) also worked closely with Storer to ensure an accurate portrayal of the kitchen.
Mathewson reached out to his hot chef pals in London and set up a day of prep and service training for Poulter. To celebrate the release of The Bear Season 2 in the UK, we spoke to chef Conor Gadd from Trullo, chef Lee Tiernan from FKABAM and chef Steve Darou from St John to learn more about how they made Poulter’s chef Luca so finger-licking good.
What was it like to have Will Poulter in your kitchen?
Conor Gadd: It was all quite random, Will didn’t come in with any structure or plan and was open to trying anything. So we had him do all sorts of things in fish, meat and a little service as well. The funny part is, we have a Brazilian sous chef, Filipe, who thought that Will was trialling for a spot at the restaurant, he had no idea who he was. So Filipe really put him through the pieces; everyone had a good laugh. Oh and Will ended up cutting himself two seconds of being in the kitchen.
Lee Tiernan: One of the chefs at FKABAM was sick the day that Will came in, and he offered to jump in and do the whole service. He did a bit of butchery and some salad and meat prep; it’s one of the most impressive things I have seen. Let’s just say if Will was trialling for a job, we would give it to him, because you can teach anyone to cook if they’re interested, but you can’t teach someone to turn up on time or work well in a team environment, and he can do that.
Steve Darou: Honestly it didn’t feel like Will was doing an acting stint, he was trying to actually learn what we do and how we do it. He worked mostly in the pastry section, lining the tarts, little pies and old school British classics. After the service was done, Will stuck around and had a couple drinks with all of us. He even came in last Sunday to say thanks, so that was quite lovely.
In the show, Poulter’s character stands apart for being patient and calm in the kitchen. Even when he teaches Marcus, there’s a certain poise and kindness, and Poulter credits this to the training he had in your restaurant. Could you tell me more about this?
Conor Gadd: Kitchens are very high pressure environments, there’s no space for ego or hierarchy. Everyone works in such close proximity and respect is the most important - it’s a non-negotiable at Trullo. I’m actually excited to see Will take to the kitchen in the show. I want to see if he moves with the ease of a chef because that’s the biggest tell. Like chefs are very efficient, you won’t see them walking back and forth, everything needs to be done in a limited time.
Lee Tiernan: So I worked at St John and [Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson] always maintained respect in the kitchen. I was there for many years and no one ever threw things against the wall or lost their temper, no matter how stressful it was. I’ve always been taught that humiliation isn’t a great teacher and I’ve tried to maintain the same environment since I started FKABAM. We don’t even call each other chef because everyone is mutually responsible at the restaurant.
Restaurant workers around the world have resonated with The Bear’s portrayal of kitchen culture. How accurate is the show in your experience? Do you use similar jargon?
Conor Gadd: So I was watching the show with my wife and she couldn’t keep up because of how much pressure they showed, but for me it was quite normal. I think the way they move and talk in the kitchen is quite realistic. Often people do shout but it’s not always anger it’s just that kitchens are really loud places and you have to be heard. You know I haven’t been called by my name in 15 years, it’s just “yes, chef” or “oui, chef”.
Lee Tiernan: Well, it is a dramatisation. When the show came out, I had people telling me that my job seems very stressful but it’s an exciting television programme, it’s not typically what happens everyday in our kitchen. Although the kitchen sets were very accurate; the used pans, beaten-up equipment, it's beautifully done. I’m sure Matty had a lot to do with that because it comes through that it’s a functioning kitchen that’s just holding on. Seeing the sandwiches made me want to go to Chicago again, it’s a great city with so much food to immerse yourself in.
Steve Darou: I don’t want people to think it’s real life, because it’s not, but it comes close. The jargon like saying “behind” or “corner” is a pretty good depiction of what it’s like in the kitchen. We don’t say “family meal” at St John but it’s just lunch or supper. Sometimes everyone eats together and on some days it’s just not possible, with how busy things are.
With shows like The Bear, chefs have come front and centre in popular media. People are making TikToks cooking, the food industry on the whole is gaining more recognition. What are your thoughts on this trend?
Conor Gadd: With open kitchens and the internet, chefs are more visible now. Earlier, this process was more masculine and militaristic but shows like The Bear have inspired a new breed of people to enter the kitchen. It’s more welcoming, and feels like a good job with benefits.
Steve Darou: A lot has changed from when I began working 15 years ago. People are more interested in seeing the behind-the-scenes of a kitchen. It’s gone from Gordon Ramsay yelling at people to now being this exciting career with good wages and benefits. Being a chef is no longer seen as a transitory job and that’s fulfilling.
Carmy previously worked at the best restaurants in the world but he decided to return home to run a beef sandwich shop. This seems to reflect reality as well as more chefs today are serving gourmet-like comfort food. How do you feel about this shift?
Conor Gadd: You have a lot of people doing what Carmy did - they work and train in high pressure, fine dining environments, get burnt out and end up moving to more relaxed settings. They apply the same attention to detail and finesse here and it works out because food is no longer as expensive and technical to produce as it once was. This is by far the biggest trend, you see top chefs opening sandwich shops and I’m delighted by it. I’d love to open my own sandwich shop some day.
Steve Darou: When I began working, you had to go around and work in restaurants for free to learn. Now with YouTube and the culture of sharing information on the internet, anyone can learn how to cook hyper specific dishes as well. There’s also a growing interest in slow and comfort food, we’re seeing a shift towards approachable red sauce diners. Earlier people sought out fine dining because those places had a certain calibre of chefs, today a neighbourhood diner can also have a chef with the same skill set. And who doesn’t love a low flame, slow cooked, braised beef brisket? It sounds delicious!
Watch The Bear Season 2 on Disney Plus from July 19
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